40d:Military design

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This article is about an older version of DF.

This page is one of several inter-related articles on the broader topic of defending your fortress and your dwarves. This page will focus on the training, organization and deployment of your military, the soldiers that will use your defenses for the greater glory blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda.

See the Defense Guide for a general overview of threats and considerations for fortress defense.

For specific suggestions on the physical defenses that will defend your military, see Defense Design.

Many defenses rely on complex traps as a central part, that are, essentially, the defense themselves. For complex traps that are not a minor/optional part of a larger defensive plan, (but might be adapted or plugged into one) see Trap Design.


The role of a military force in fortress defense can be central or non-existent, depending on the player's overall approach and strategy. Their one advantage is mobility - they can go where no static defenses exist, to rescue or support other dwarves, or escort a caravan through unknown or deadly threats. Only military can take the fight to the enemy (doomsday devices excepted.)


Training soldiers up is actually fairly quick - less than a season for wrestling, and again for a weapon skill. Shield user and armor user take longer, so getting on it asap, at least with some of your first migrants (if not with your starting seven) is recommended if you want to go the military route.

One of the important parts of a military is to have dwarves with high attributes, and that requires training them up. See cross-training for suggestions on various attribute training plans.

Daylight training room[edit]

Put a weapon rack on the surface near your entrance and make it a training room. Training dwarves will be in position if there's trouble. This also helps prevent cave adaptation in your military. You can use an archery target this way, too.


Archers are deadly, but vulnerable to melee - crossbows as clubs just aren't the best, but you can't have archer towers every 15 tiles across the map - sometimes you want to take it to the enemy. Beyond that, mixing or matching is largely up to you.

Small squads/individual soldiers[edit]

Manipulating large numbers of soldiers is easiest when grouped in a few squads, no doubt. But if the leader of that squad decides to go for a drink, on break, to eat or sleep, the entire squad follows. What's more, if placed behind a wall, some members of a large squad might decide their best location is on the other side of that wall. Keeping squads small, in 2's or 3's, or even as individual soldiers, requires more management but returns much higher tactical results.

If trained to (near-)Legendary in shield user, wrestling and a weapon of choice, and armored up with adamantine, one lone champion can take out several squads of goblins without a scratch. But combat always has a random element - DF happens.

Strategy & Tactics[edit]

Roughing it[edit]

Always have your soldiers carry food. They will each need a backpack to carry it. This keeps your soldiers from wandering off to eat. You can also have them carry water in waterskins or flasks, but this isn't recommended for the long term, as it keeps your soldiers from drinking alcohol. For an around the clock guard, have them sleep on the ground while on duty. Hopefully the sounds of combat will wake them up before they get killed. Sleeping on the floor causes unhappy thoughts.

Wait for my signal...[edit]

When ganging up on dangerous creatures (such as megabeasts), turning off "Chase wild animals" is preferable until all units are in position. Getting all your units into position, pausing the game, and then turning them loose at once, can achieve the desired advantage of numbers against formidable opponents.

Likewise, often champions will rush out on their own to do battle with an overwhelming force of siegers. Keep the entire squad far back from the exit until they are all armed and armored, and ready to roll as a unit. (Having a good lockable front gate will also avoid this.)

Militia & Armed civilians[edit]

Besides professional, full-time military, it's quite useful to incorporate part-time soldiers or armed civilians into the mix.

  • See also Cross-training for suggestions on training attributes & civilian/military mixes.

Training: self-sorting migrants[edit]

When you get a new wave of 10 or 30 migrants, especially early on, what jobs do you give them? If they have obvious likes or dislikes, you can go with those - if they like "steel", they'll be a weaponsmith or armorsmith, if they like aluminum or platinum, maybe a metal crafter, and so on. But for those who have no such special talents, you may want a bunch to become military, both weaponsdwarves and marksdwarves, and some to become haulers - who's who?

The answer is - let them decide, by what attributes they gain. Haulers need some Strength if they're hauling stone (and furnace operators are not hurt by it either). Toughness is not immediately useful to anyone out of combat, but is critical to survive military training and surviving and healing from combat injuries. Agility helps anyone, giving more actions/time spent, which includes a faster movement across distances. So put any migrants who are not obviously ear-marked into a quick training program - have them mine soil for a season, or work on pumps, or assign them as your bookkeeper or smoothing stone, whatever works for you. After a few attribute gains (you'll see 5 before they hit Legendary, 6 not long after - up to you when they're "ready"*), see where they are - send your Toughest into sparring for weaponry, your most Agile into hauling, your Strong/Agile into crossbow training, and so on. (Note - metal crossbows plus bolts weigh much more than a hand-weapon, as much as half the armor itself!) Agile makes anyone "faster", both walking and many tasks, so that is up to you to place where you want it most.

(* A Very Strong dwarf can carry most any single stone, though it takes a Mighty dwarf to carry platinum or gold ore without slowing down. A full suit of plate layered over chain armor weighs a staggering amount, but Armor user can negate part or even (at Legendary) all of that. A metal crossbow, metal bolts and backup quiver can be lugged by any unarmored dwarf, but don't allow much margin for additional armor. See Speed/Encumbrance & Equipment and encumbrance.)

Remember that the three attributes are chosen at random, and a dwarf will gain more with military or any additional training ("Hauling" doesn't give any experience). Also, soldiers that have any full rank in a civilian skill don't get bad thoughts when de-Activated, are more useful when there is no threat. Similarly, civilians who have a full rank in a combat skill get no bad thoughts when suddenly Activated when the need arises. This can be used to create civilian "reservists" who can be called upon when needed, military with a civilian application, or in a quick-and-dirty program, civilians who can better defend themselves when necessary - wood cutters with some Axedwarf, or miners with extra Wrestling for when their picks get stuck in a goblin - even a few ranks can make a big difference in an ambush. There is a reason Sparta had so many citizen-soldiers.

Gobbo season open![edit]

It can be a fairly decent idea to keep mass numbers of cheaply-made crossbows (or your lower-quality rejects) and bone/wood bolts on hand, and all expendable dwarves in one mass military squad set to use crossbows (and leather armor, if you have enough). What dabbling marksdwarves lack in speed and accuracy, they more than make up for with incredible enthusiasm, as a hailstorm of pathetically-aimed bolts will tear over anything stupid enough to move. Not nearly as effective or useful as properly-emplaced marksdwarves with high skill and proper equipment, but a good emergency measure, especially if you keep your craftsdwarves busy churning out cheap ammo from spare bones from the kitchens and cheap crossbows from fishbones from the dining hall.

Non-hunting hunters[edit]

Sometime you will embark in an area devoid of (huntable) wildlife. In that case, you can turn on the Hunting skill for all civilians and use the military menu to arm (and more importantly, armor and shield) them. Normally turning on hunting will cause dwarves to wander outside looking for wildlife, and turning it on on all your dwarves would delay your economy greatly - but without wildlife, no hunting jobs are generated, and they go about their business armed and armored. Note that if X number of hunt-able animals do appear on the map, that many dwarves will then go hunt them. Do note that hunters will sleep on the ground when they are tired instead of walking to a bed, which will result in unhappy thoughts.

Woodcutters ftw[edit]

Any dwarf with the Woodcutting labor designated will carry an axe, even when they are not cutting wood. If one (or more) of your starting seven have one rank or more of axedwarf, no unhappy thoughts will be generated if they are drafted into active service. This dwarf might serve to fill several or all above-ground activities, such as Plant Gathering, Architecture and Masonry for bridges and defensive walls, above ground farming, and any hauling, as well as wood cutting. Later, a squad of dedicated woodcutters, possibly with some training in axedwarf, masonry and other skills, can respond en masse to orders to cut trees, providing mutual support and finishing off a large section of trees and getting back to safety that much faster. Actually training them in axedwarf is optional, but certainly helps.

Note that so long as you have no tree designated for cutting (or have no path to those trees), the woodcutters will not respond. However, if you do, as many woodcutters as trees will respond to those locations - it's recommended that if/when you do, you centralize the designations to allow them to more fully support each other.

Miners ftw[edit]

The above tactic can also be used with Miners. When you activate a miner with a pick into the military with "unarmed" weapon designated, they fight with the pick they are holding and their skill is their mining - and it's not hard for a miner to gain legendary miner skill quite quickly. Parallel problems arise when designating areas to be mined, but careful use of locked doors or hatches on mineshafts can prevent too many from responding to an area to be excavated.

A dwarf will hold either an axe or a pick, depending on which labor is activated - it's not possible to activate both at once, the game does not allow it.

Siege operators[edit]

There are 4 important things to remember about siege operators:

  1. They are civilians. This means that when manning (dwarving?) their stations, they will flee if enemy units approach too close. Doesn't matter if there is no actual path, it's the mere distance that triggers it. On the plus side, they don't get unhappy thoughts from being "Activated" for the military - it's just another civilian job.
  2. Training siege operation is slooooow. Start early.
  3. Siege engines do not fire quickly, so you want high skill to make the few shots you get count.
  4. Once trained (some years later), they can be trained up in other civilian skills that are useful whenever they're not at their stations. (See cross-training for suggestions.)

A guide for siege engine operations[edit]

Please bear in mind that this is VERY long term stuff (10 years). Only by having highly trained siege operators and high quality siege weapons can you shoot accurately.

  • Download LabourDF from here:
  • Start off with two miners and a woodcutter trained to proficient siege engineer status
  • After your fortress has about 50 dwarves, build a siege workshop, place it at the front of your fort near the battlements and designate a custom stockpile within the battlements that can take only ballista arrows. Designate another custom stockpile that can take only regular stone.
  • Make sure only one of your dwarves is set to have siege engineering as an active labor. Change that dwarf's orders to have nothing but siege engineering enabled. It may help to give that dwarf a custom profession title (such as SIEGE) to distinguish that dwarf from others. When new Mechanic or Siege engineer dwarves arrive, make sure to disable siege engineering for them.
  • You'll need wood, lots of wood.
  • Get the siege engineer dwarf to build 18 catapult parts, place them inside behind fortifications (which catapults CAN shoot through), designate a custom stockpile of regular stone within the battlements.
  • Train six dwarves to legendary status with mining or another fast-training skill: their high attributes are absolutely necessary for siege operating. All operators should have no job orders other than their stat-training and siege operating. When there is no mining to be done, set six catapults to "fire at will"
  • After the catapult parts are done, get the siege engineer dwarf to build about 100 wooden ballista arrows. Don't bother with metal arrowheads as they'll use 3 pieces of metal each, and that certainly adds up.
  • Now that his or her skill is at a high level, your siege engineer dwarf should be able to build superior quality (*) siege engine parts with about a 75% success rate. Build about 40 catapult parts and 40 ballista parts.
  • Build ten catapults and ten ballistas with a MINIMUM of superior quality (*) components in an alternating sequence along your well stocked battlements. Dump any inferior components.
  • By this point your miners/operators should be at a high level of skill, possibly legendary. This gives your superior quality weapons a devastatingly high rate of fire and awesome accuracy.

An alternate training program[edit]

This works well if you have a secure above-ground enclosure, a statue garden or farm plots with a surrounding wall, or a privatized plateau, as it can avoid cave adaptation while training (and the engines could be placed where they also have a useful field of fire). At a minimum, a wall with an interior area of 6x6 is barely adequate for two practice engines, stairs up and recovery trench, but a training facility could be built entirely underground.

Embark with a Proficient Siege Engineer. (Training takes far too long, and it's not a moodable skill.)

After the first caravan departs and your fortress begins to settle in, build your Siege Workshop near access to the topside if possible - parts are heavy, and clutter a workshop quicker than other finished goods. Manufacture a half-dozen or a dozen (or more) of one type of siege weapon part, enough for 2-3 decent engines - higher overall quality is better, if you have the logs and time to spare. Choice between ballista/catapult is up to you, but don't worry about building up ammo supplies - you will have some stone lying around, and one ballistae arrow per engine is enough for training. No rush, don't have to be done until your operators are actually ready to practice.

If possible, build theses close to the dining hall and barracks/bedrooms - not too close (see noise), but close enough to reduce travel time. Dig a channel (double-wide if for ballistae ammo) on one side that can catch ammo, and add a wall (or drawbridge) behind that, plus a ramp or stairs down behind the engines to access the fallen ammo in the trench. (If ballistae, take precautions against accidental friendly fire accidents.) If the location allows the engine to be turned and used when needed, so much the better, but this is mainly for training for now.

Side view

    ss>  |       ss> = siege engine (fires to right)     |  = wall or drawbridge backstop
   X...__         X  = stairs/ramp                          ... = access tunnel to trench
                  __ = bottom of channel for ammo catching       

Once your first wave of immigrants shows up (first Winter or second Spring or so), pick a bunch to become "military" - don't decide who will become what, not quite yet.

Put them to training on pumps, mining through soil and/or bookkeeping to improve attributes. "Tough" recruits chase more attributes and go into military training, where sparring will be dangerous and injuries expected - "Very Strong" recruits, with no other attributes, become siege operators, for lugging heavy ammo (and to avoid hurting each other during sparring). (Agility is universally beneficial, dealer's choice.)

Set your chosen few to firing the siege weapons into the wall asap, as soon as they have some useful attribute increases - you aren't looking for uber-dwarves, just something above peasant level. If you want, use cross-training to allow them to become useful masons when the need arises, though this delays their siege training. (This can be done sooner if you have a lot of urgent building projects, or later once they have achieved acceptable levels of siege operator.)

If you want to manufacture more ammo, you can set a stockpile adjacent to the engines and designate some haulers, and that will speed training some, but the walk down to retrieve ammo is not a long one.

Add more trainees and training engines as your work-pool grows. Final numbers depend on your needs, defensive plan and environment.

Once they've trained to Legendary (some few years?), they can be fully cross-trained to be productive while not firing the engine. Give them beds near their final stations, and don't forget to train replacements before accidents happen.


War dogs can also be assigned to dwarves who go outside frequently, whether military or civilian. Then when the dwarf encounters danger, the war dog runs at the danger while the dwarf runs away from it. Unfortunately, war dogs are slower than dwarves with high Agility, and do not shadow the dwarf perfectly. Also, dogs can't be reassigned once they are assigned, To get around this, have the dwarf you want to be guarded train the dog. (Dogs follow the one who trained them until they are assigned.)

Also, once a dwarf reaches Hero status, they cannot be assigned dogs (due to that menu being unavailable), so assign any before this happens or not at all.

See Also: